Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 30

23 mins read

Two more sleeps.

What more does Kyle Lowry have to do to solidify his Hall of Fame case? – The Athletic

As everyone who has watched the Raptors during Lowry’s tenure knows, his impact often defies raw statistics. To use the parlance of coaches, Lowry is a winning player. He makes winning plays, whether it is sliding into place to help prevent a straight drive to the bucket or pushing the ball up the court quickly to make sure his team is attacking an unprepared defence.

Unless you have the finest technology, you cannot count those things. They tend to show up elsewhere, though.

“I think the two best things for Lowry’s Hall of Fame case going forward would be to either stay with the Raptors through the end of his career or become a key veteran player on another franchise that makes the NBA Finals or conference finals,” Harris said. “Both of those roads hold a narrative appeal. Say he plays until he’s 37 or 38 with Toronto, that’s 12 or 13 seasons with the Raptors making him the undisputed historical cornerstone of an NBA franchise. The other path gives him some cachet as ‘the missing piece’ some club needed to get over the hump, and all that jazz, that makes for a compelling story.”

Raptors fans obviously have a preference. Whichever way Lowry’s career goes, it is difficult to imagine him on a bad team again. His game has become synonymous with winning, which is probably the first bullet point on his Hall of Fame résumé.

Amick: The biggest storylines of the 2020 NBA restart – The Athletic

The champs are here. The Toronto Raptors are the defending champions of the NBA.

That statement of fact is born mostly out of guilt, as myself and so many others in the national NBA media space rarely took the time to give them their just due this season. We got distracted by the superstar pairings in LA and the Giannis domination and all the rest, and barely mentioned how the Raptors — the Raptors! — were the ones who sat on basketball’s biggest throne.

Now that they’ve somehow looked the part of reigning champs, even without Leonard and Danny Green, with the Pascal Siakam/Kyle Lowry/Fred VanVleet-led bunch trailing only the league-leading Bucks in the East, the least we could do is go into this restart with a direct reminder of that reality: The champs are here, and a little respect is in order. The Bucks, Boston, Philly and everyone else on that side of the ledger would be well advised to not take them lightly, especially since there are signs that this team is even more dangerous than the last (don’t kill the messenger; stats don’t lie).

These Raptors have a better winning percentage than the 2018-19 edition (.719 vs. .707), a better net rating (plus-6.4 vs. plus-5.8), a better defensive rating (104.9 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 108.6), and a similar offensive rating (111.3 vs. 112.6). And that was with a slew of injuries that could have — should have — compromised their title defense.

If nothing else, I got this much right: Nick Nurse for Coach of the Year.

Things for the Rings: Kyle Lowry over everything for the Raptors? – Raptors HQ

Can He Do It?
There is precedent for Lowry to take the controls. In 20 games in 2015-16, Kyle put up a 26.5 percent Usage Rate while averaging 19.1/6.1/4.7. Unfortunately, Kyle had a putrid 50.8 TS%. A seven-game sample size in 2013-14 is more encouraging — there Kyle posted a 21.1/4.7/4.7 line on a 26.1 Usage percentage and a 56.7 TS% — which included a whopping seven free throw attempts a game.

Realistically though, Lowry is going to have to be even better. He’ll likely need to keep his Usage above the 25 percent range, while pushing his True Shooting Percentage to about 60 percent (something he’s done twice in the regular season in his career) to provide Toronto with enough lead guard juice to run the gauntlet.

Chances of It Happening: 5 out of 10
Never bet against Kyle Lowry, but leading a team to the Finals, scoring at borderline elite efficiency, upping your regular season workload, and also playing as a small guard is a recipe that really only Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, and Allen Iverson have managed in the modern era.

On the bright side: If Lowry can add his name to that particular list while playing for this version of the Raptors, then he really will have burnished his Hall of Fame case for good.

Partnow: 22 numbers to know for the 22 teams in the NBA bubble – The Athletic

Toronto Raptors: -32.7
The gap between Toronto’s scoring per 100 halfcourt plays and per 100 transition plays.

That the Raptors have greatly outperformed post-Kawhi expectations is unquestionable. However, their second-place record in the East likely overstates their chances of defending their title significantly. Toronto’s 5-11 record against other 50+ win pace teams was 18th in the NBA. The main reason for the Raptors’ struggles against top teams was their offense. Against bottom third teams, they had the eighth-best offense, scoring 116.5 PTS/100, but against the top tier, they were 24th, only managing 104.3 PTS/100.

This gap was in large part because of their reliance on transition play. Toronto was 18th overall in halfcourt efficiency, per Cleaning the Glass, last among the teams that finished above .500. Almost tautologically, teams which appear later in the playoffs are better. That means they tend to take care of the ball better and shoot more accurately while being more disciplined getting back on defense should they miss or suffer a live ball turnover. Toronto is thus likely to face many more halfcourt possessions than it did across the regular season, and unless it can close the efficiency gap between when it can play opportunistically and when it has to attack a set defense, its stay in the bubble could be shorter than it had hoped.

NBA restart A to Z: A guide to the 26 things you need to know going in – The Athletic

N – Nick Nurse
Guitar-strumming head coach of the Toronto Raptors.

Remember them? They won the championship last year. No, really, we had a tournament and everything.

We should probably talk about this team more. The Raptors lost a wing player of some renown to free agency (see letter “K” above), but with a deep, smart, tough team have held solid to the second seed in the East – right where they finished a year ago. They don’t have any A-Listers you can mention by one name, but regardless seem headed toward an alluring showdown with Boston in the second round … and perhaps more.

Toronto Temperature: The Toronto Raptors are back and bubble life has been (mostly) good – Raptors HQ

Who’s Hot

Pascal Siakam, No Rust
Remember when the hellscape of an echo chamber that is Twitter went off about Siakam not having played basketball during a global pandemic? Well, look at ya now, dummies!

Over three scrimmages, it was clear Siakam hadn’t quite missed a beat after his long break from NBA basketball. His arsenal of tricks, including shoulder fakes and spins, dribble drives moves, and a different mix of midrange shots, gradually looked as polished as ever. His jumper (and three-ball) found water too and his defense ramped up as the scrimmages went along.

Moreover, these were, say it with me now, scrimmage games. Outside of yesterday’s Suns contest, the Raptors looked to be taking these games seriously and they can thank Siakam (and an ornery Kyle Lowry) for being the tone setters.

Norman Powell, Rust Eliminated
Hands up if you have had flashbacks to Bad Norm during the first two scrimmage games. If your hand is in the hair, shame on you! Even as a former disciple of the “You can’t trust this guy unless it’s against the Bucks” Movement, I will be the first to come to bat for Norm this season as he has time and time again, through multiple injuries, shown us that the new Norm is here to stay.

At this point, Powell’s role as the Raptors’ sixth man is undeniable. And when he’s playing as the off-ball scorer — a guy who can hit the three on the swing, catch defenses napping from the weakside, or power past people in transition — Norm has looked unstoppable.

OG Anunoby, Handles and D
According to his teammates and OG himself, Anunoby has been putting in considerable work during the pandemic break. While he was already an excellent cutter and more than serviceable spot-up shooter, OG has been making giant leaps in a facet of his game that was arguably his worst: his handle.

This moment felt years away and yet, there it was, glorious in its splendour. Raptors fans have been waiting for OG to take the next offensive leap in his game and this development could be the catalyst.

He’s also pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty great on the defensive end too.

Reigning champ Raps on collision course to meet Celtics in Orlando bubble | Toronto Sun

Mental toughness won’t be an issue with this group, at least with its core players, and nor will coaching.

There’s a swagger only championship teams acquire and a belief that no game against any foe can’t be won.

In Utah, the Raptors were a plus-19 when it came to controlling the glass, but they also turned the ball 18 times.

Siakam and Ibaka posted double-doubles, while Hollis-Jefferson hauled down 10 rebounds.

When the season was suspended, only the L.A. Lakers, Toronto’s opponent Saturday when the Raps resume play, and the Milwaukee Bucks had better records.

When the season went on pause, the Raptors tied with the L.A. Clippers for third-best in points differential.

LeBron’s Lakers, who likely won’t have Anthony Davis on board, Miami, Orlando, Boston, Memphis with former Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas, Milwaukee, Philly and Denver, form what can be liberally described as the elite eight opponents the Raptors will face before the playoffs begin.

The key is to avoid injury.

At this point, the Raptors aren’t going to change their identity, nor should they. They’re a team that can play any style of game, a resilient team that won’t beat itself, a versatile team that can go big with a frontcourt featuring Gasol, Ibaka and Siakam or play small with Siakam as a stretch centre.

For now, what isn’t known and what can’t be known until the playoffs begin is what kind of impact a Terence Davis II will have, how deep will head coach Nick Nurse go into his bench or if Matt Thomas can drain a game-winner from beyond the arc.

NBA: Eastern Conference Team-by-Team Previews – Orlando Sentinel

2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)

Record vs. rest of field: 27-17 (Best: 3-0 vs. Magic)

Last game: W, 101-92 at Jazz

Who to watch: Pascal Siakam (23.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 45.9% FG, 35.9% 3FG); Kyle Lowry (19.7 ppg, 7.7 apg, 35.4% 3FG); Fred VanVleet (17.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 1.9 spg, 38.8% 3FG); Serge Ibaka (16.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 51.8% FG); Norman Powell (16.4 ppg, 39.8% 3FG).

Players out: None

Scouting report: Under the unique environment of the restart, the reigning NBA champions will face a daunting challenge in defending their title. While some key players (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green) are gone, Nick Nurse’s group certainly possesses the resiliency to repeat.
With their switching and passing lane coverage, the Raptors do not give opponents anything easy on offense. They are difficult to play against. Toronto leads the league in fewest field goals allowed per game (37.9) and opponent field goal percentage (41.3%), and ranks second in defensive rating (104.9).
The Raptors put pressure on defenses with their pace and 3-point shooting. They lead the league in fast-break points per game (19.4) and percentage of points from fast breaks (17.2%), and are third in percentage of points from 3-pointers (36.5%).
The Raptors no longer have the star power of Leonard, but Siakam has taken his game to a new level this season, particularly with his 3-point shooting. The improved perimeter shooting puts even more pressure on opposing defenses, which now much contest him at the 3-point line. Siakam remains a strong finisher at the rim either through driving in halfcourt sets or in transition. He’s a big reason why the Raptors are so good in the open court.
Lowry remains the steadying force at point guard while VanVleet has taken a big step this season, his first as a starter. He’s one of the team’s top 3-point shooters and showed his mettle during the title run, taking and making big shots in the NBA Finals.
Ibaka replaced 35-year-old Marc Gasol as the starting center in late January and has given the Raptors more offense in addition to a rebounding and shot-blocking presence.
The Raptors once again have quality depth and the roster includes seasoned veterans who understand playoff basketball. Nurse gets his guys to play together. During their 15-game win streak from Jan. 15-Feb. 8, the Raptors used five different starting lineups. For the season, Toronto has had 15 different starting lineups.

N.B.A. Season Restart Preview: In the East, Where Do the Bucks Stop? – The New York Times

2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)

This team is deep and has championship pedigree. Pascal Siakam broke out this year to average career highs in almost every category and establish himself as a star, which helped the team overcome the loss of Kawhi Leonard. But aside from Siakam, five other players averaged double digits in scoring for Toronto, as the Raptors gripped the second seed throughout the season. They excelled defensively, clocking in as the second best on that end behind Milwaukee.

Questions: The Raptors were not a top-10 offense during the pre-stoppage regular season. Are Siakam and Kyle Lowry strong enough offensively to get baskets whenever the team needs them in the playoffs against better defenses? Can they hold off the Boston Celtics, who are three games behind, to retain their seed? You want the No. 2 seed over the No. 3. It’s the difference between facing a depleted Nets team and going up against Miami, Indiana or Philadelphia, who might land at No. 6.

Ranking the 30 best players in the 2019-20 NBA season restart | NBA.com Canada

Two Raptors made the top 30: Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry.

Siakam landed in 12th and Lowry finished 17th. It’s actually a slight drop for Siakam and a slight improvement for Lowry. Compared to the last time we did this exercise, Siakam fell two spots, whereas Lowry jumped two spots.

We were all over the place with Siakam. The highest he ranked was 10th. The lowest? 17th behind the following 10 players, plus Paul George, Chris Paul, Ben Simmons, Zion Williamson, Jimmy Butler and Lowry.

The NBA Reentrance Survey – The Ringer

Zach Kram: Raptors. I’m assuming all of my coworkers are going to say the 76ers and their new lineup, but Nick Nurse’s team lost Kawhi Leonard and yet improved its winning percentage and net rating this season. That success also came with basically every key player injured at one point or another. The Raptors probably don’t have the same ceiling without Leonard, but with a now-healthy outfit of solid players throughout the rotation, Toronto has an underrated chance to defend its title.
The NBA restart is here and this is what we’re most looking forward to in the basketball bubble – ESPN

Can the Raptors repeat?

Having lost Kawhi Leonard weeks after he was named Finals MVP, Toronto was never going to be a typical defending champion in 2019-20. Even without Leonard and fellow starting wing Danny Green, however, the Raptors have put themselves in contention in the East. Toronto enters the restart with a fully healthy rotation for the first time since the season’s early days and should be favored to meet the Bucks in a rematch of last season’s conference finals. Certainly, the Raptors would be an underdog against Milwaukee, and they’re no sure thing to make it that far with the talented Celtics potentially looming in Round 2. But after last year’s thrilling title run, I’m excited to see what Toronto has in store this year. — Kevin Pelton

2. Toronto Raptors

After being decimated by injuries during the pre-hiatus portion of the season, the Raptors enter the bubble with their entire roster intact and ready to go.

Despite being largely written off as a title contender when Kawhi Leonard left, that means the Raptors have a real chance to defend their 2019 crown.

When Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and OG Anunoby are all on the floor, Toronto is plus-12.1 points per 100 possessions (97th percentile).

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